If Only I…
Carla Chapel walked on dirty leaves, twigs and branches; all signs of the actual trail had been lost some time ago. She couldn’t even see the sun, with the overcast sky and wind whipping the treetops. Goosebumps prickled her shoulders and arms. A tear slid down her cheek; another soon joined it. Now what am I supposed to do? She wondered. If it hadn’t been for that old woman she wouldn’t even be out there. No phone, no flashlight, no coat. How did I end up like this? She thought back.
Carla and her brother Sam had gone to church their entire lives. During the sermons they had colored and played games, but sometimes she got sleepy and would lay her head down to take a nap. All the while, the preacher droned on. As they got older Mama made them put the games away and tried to interest them in listening. Carla was seventeen years old now and she still thought the preacher talked a lot but sometimes she forgot herself and got interested. Then her mind would wander and she would feel guilty about that. Other times his words would catch her and all of a sudden the service would be over and she would wonder how the time could have passed so quickly. Sitting there today, she had counted the minutes until the service would be over and they could go eat and visit with everyone. That part she always enjoyed.
Well, things weren’t so much fun now were they? Carla tripped over a tree branch and sprawled out on the cold ground. “Ouch!” She cried out. Sitting up, she hugged her knee in pain. Stupid branch, getting in my way, Carla thought. My leg hurts! Why had she even come out here? Oh yea, the woman at the church. She said something about a child being lost.
Carla had asked what the child looked like but the she just kept saying a girl was lost and was pointing at the woods. No one else seemed to hear the old woman, and she had seemed distressed, so Carla had gone to look. Within a few yards she seemed to get turned around and the trail just…disappeared. That had been a while ago and she not only couldn’t find the little girl, she was now lost and couldn’t find her way. It was getting dark fast. She stood and could barely walk, her leg hurt, it was cold and stiff. Are you supposed to keep moving or stay where you are? She couldn’t remember. It was getting dark and Carla’s leg was throbbing. She saw a downed tree and leaned against it, shivering. She just couldn’t believe the situation she was in. Carla started crying all over again.
Maria Chapel had enjoyed the service today, the preacher had spoken on one of her favorite bible verses, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Philippians 4:13. How she wished that Carla would come to understand that. She remembered her daughter as a small child; how the light had come on in Carla’s eyes when she realized she had just read her first sentence, word by word. She’d been so excited, so eager to read more. Understanding God’s word was kind of like that for Maria, once she finally understood – it was overwhelming and all she wanted was more! She could only hope that the message at church was reaching them.
After the service everyone talked and had a nice meal. Later when the women had cleaned up the lunch hall Maria began looking for Sam and Carla. It was time to go. She waved to nine-year old Sam and he headed her way.
“Where is your sister?” She asked him, looking across the lunchroom.
“She went out there!” He called as he ran by, pointing outside. “I saw her.” Maria put down her dishcloth and went to get her coat. Carla had gone into the woods? But… it looked like it was going to rain. Marie went out to the cemetery. An old woman sat on a stone bench, watching her approach.
“Carla?” She called, “Carla!” She called, looking around. There was no response. It was sprinkling already, was Carla wearing her coat? She’d forgotten to ask Sam. She walked up to the old woman and introduced herself. “Have you seen my daughter?” The old woman only pointed to the woods.
Carla hugged her knees to her chest; it was less windy underneath the tree. She made herself as small as possible, trying to conserve heat. She didn’t know what to do; she was lost and alone. Seventeen had felt awful grown up just a few hours ago when she had driven the family to church in her mother’s old dodge. It didn’t feel so grown up now. How quickly our fears set in when we lose familiar surroundings. It had only sprinkled though, thank heavens, and after a while the wind died down too. Still she was wet and so cold!
Her mind naturally began to go back over the day; getting ready for church, teasing Sam when he couldn’t get his tie right. She felt poor when she watched him tie on his yard sale shoes that had seen better days but had shaken that off and gone out the door to warm up the car. Mama only let her do that when it was really cold. Otherwise she said it was a waste of gas. Someday she’d have enough to buy Mama a decent car but then laughed. Mama wouldn’t warm it up either; she would still think of it as a waste.
At church they had unloaded the food from the trunk of the car and then gone in to service. The congregation was singing, and Carla had to admit she loved that part of the service. It was the rest of it that she didn’t know about. It seemed like such a huge thing, giving yourself to God. Was she a believer? How could you be sure about something like that? You read every day about earthquakes in Japan and starving babies in Africa. She knew that God did not cause these things, but it was definitely in his power to prevent them. It was pretty hard to reconcile that abusive marriages or letting a newborn baby get shaken to death by a junkie boyfriend somewhere were part of his plan. Mama said that you simply had to have faith, that the plan was not given for us to know.
If I was a good Christian I wouldn’t even be questioning these things would I? …and what about evolution? I mean, the fossils are there, how can you explain that? SO many people said so many things, it was impossible to know what to think!
It was full dark now. The wind had died some time ago, leaving the woods an eerie quiet. The moon was rising and frost was forming on the leaves and the ground. I need to get moving, she thought, rising painfully to stand. Her feet and hands were so cold she could hardly feel them anymore. Before she went two steps her leg gave out and she fell to her knees. It hurt so badly that she lost her breath and couldn’t even yell. Oh God, she cried inside. If only I could get my bearings! God, please help me. I don’t know what to do! Carla was lost, physically and spiritually.
Maria spoke to the old woman, trying to find out where Carla had gone. Bundled up in her coat and scarf, all she did was keep mumbling about the ‘lost girl’ and kept pointing to the woods. Maria pulled her coat tighter about herself with shivering fingers and turned to the dark trees. She went into the woods herself and tried to make out a trail, tried to see which way her daughter could have gone. It was dark and Maria really couldn’t make anything out. She knew that Carla was struggling lately, had she run away, unable to deal with impending adulthood? That didn’t sound like her daughter. She was such a smart girl. I never had grades like hers, she thought. She has such a bright future ahead of her, if she would only trust herself and believe in the Lord. Maria moved through the trees slowly.
“Carla!” She called again. No answer, not a sound. She found herself at the edge of a small clearing. She stopped to pray that her daughter would find her way back. Maria had absolute belief in the Lord; she knew he worked miracles every day. She prayed too, that Carla would find the Lord and know His Love as well.
She opened her eyes and raised her head, hands clasped and raised in supplication in front of her. The moon had come out from behind the clouds and was shining down here and there, laying silver and black ribbons across the forest floor. She could see the clearing, and what was that over there on the other side? It looked like an old stump with Spanish Moss swinging from it. As she studied the shadowed lump it began to change shape. Oh dear. Her breath caught in her throat.
Meanwhile, Carla prayed. Probably for the first time in her life, she really spoke to the Lord. It was more than just a ‘if you get me out of this I’ll be good’ prayer like when she used to get in trouble with her brother. This was a more than the words. It was a stripping away of the outer layers of school, girlfriends, fashion and hairdo’s. She thanked the Lord for the wonderful mother he’d given her, for the kooky brother that looked up to her. She asked the Lord to forgive her for her sins, deeply ashamed. As she prayed it dawned on her. I do. I do believe. She cried with relief, tears streaming down her face. God is real and had been there all along. Satan tries to keep us from seeing the mercy of God’s love and grace. He clouds our vision with fancy clothes and covers our ears with loud music but Carla now saw what had been hidden. Satan revels at the confusion in our hearts and distracts us at every turn. He causes every bad thing on earth and we brought those evils upon ourselves as sinners. But because Jesus died on the cross for our sins, we are forgiven and promised a place next to him, with heaven as our home. Home!
“Thank you God, thank you, thank you!” She cried with joy. She wanted to call out her happiness but was too cold to do any more than whisper. Yet she knew that God had heard, and in her heart she knew. A tear of joy slipped down her cheek. In the dark she heard a sound, different somehow from the rest. She slowly opened her eyes and stared in wonder at the sight in front of her.
Maria let out a long pent-up breath. “Oh.” Was all she could say. On the other side of the clearing her daughter Carla was kneeling, hands clasped in prayer. That wasn’t Spanish moss. Carla’s long hair was swinging and it’s movement had caught Maria’s eye. How could she not have seen? But she hadn’t, had she? It was like Carla wasn’t there and now she was.
At the same time Carla opened her eyes and saw her mother in the moonlight and became aware of the lights from the church shining through the trees behind her. Why hadn’t she seen them if she was that close? Why couldn’t she see the path right in front of her? It didn’t matter. Mama was here and everything was okay. Carla’s eyes were open and now she knew; when you walk with the Lord, all paths will lead you home.